ALICE IN WONDERLAND
Here's the problem with the vast majority of movies based on Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass: They're too tame, too hesitant and too conventional to really tap into the more unsettling aspects of an immortal fantasy that provides as much satisfaction for adults as for children. The most disappointing adaptation is arguably 1951's Alice in Wonderland, the animated Disney version that misinterpreted the tale as merely a merry romp for small tykes. The best version remains Jan Svankmajer's 1988 Czech import Alice, which employed stop-motion animation to create a creepy masterpiece. And now, falling down the rabbit hole of good intentions, is Tim Burton's new take on the classic, a visually stimulating rendition that nevertheless comes off as lamentably timid. Carroll's 7-year-old protagonist has been transformed into a 19-year-old heroine (played by Mia Wasikowska), who escapes from a dull Victorian-era garden party only to find herself tumbling into the strange world known as "Underland." She quickly comes to learn that this mysterious place is ruled by the wicked Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), who has usurped the throne from her saintly sister, the now-banished White Queen (Anne Hathaway). Convinced that it's all only a dream, Alice largely stumbles from one incident to the next; her strongest ally proves to be The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), who lost his marbles at the same time the White Queen lost her empire. Providing unnecessary backstory to an established character like the Hatter is the sort of boxed-in thinking that often torpedoes the picture. Scripter Linda Woolverton has some exemplary credits to her name (including Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King), but her talent for classically structured narratives gets in the way here, since Carroll's surreal saga is anything but streamlined. The changes made to the source material are, almost without exception, devoid of true vision or imagination, meaning that the most demented moments -- such as the floating heads in the castle's moat, or the sudden appearances by the Cheshire Cat (still the story's coolest character) -- need to be embraced whenever they sporadically appear. As Alice, Wasikowska is rather listless, while Depp seems to be on board only as a favor to his friend and frequent collaborator Burton -- in other words, he brings nothing special to the role. The only cast member who truly excels is Bonham Carter, whose performance is outrageous enough to meet the demands of the Red Queen's excesses yet also allows a smidgen of pity to be applied toward the character's resigned awareness of her own deformity. The actress clearly holds the winning hand here, trumping all other players in this rickety house of cards.
Brooklyn's Finest certainly isn't Hollywood's finest. This tired police actioner admittedly picks up during its second half, but by then, patrons may be too deep in slumber to be woken even by the constant gunplay, shouted profanity or blaring
coincidences that clang against each other with Crash-like precision. Speaking of Crash, that film's Don Cheadle shows up for ensemble duty here as well, playing one of three NYC police officers whose lives will intersect at various points during this pedestrian picture's running time. He plays Tango, an undercover cop who isn't sure if he can betray the powerful crime lord (Wesley Snipes) who trusts him like a brother. Meanwhile, Sal (Ethan Hawke) is tired of trying to support his large family on his measly salary, so he figures there's no harm in pocketing the cash found in the drug dens he helps bust. Finally, there's Eddie (one-note Richard Gere), a surly loner who has only one week to go before his retirement.
Antoine Fuqua previously directed Training Day (for which Denzel Washington won his second Oscar), but here he's tackling a script with training wheels, as Michael C. Martin (making his feature-film writing debut) can't escape from the ghosts of cop flicks past. The only modest surprises occur at the very end -- not everyone gets the fate that might be expected -- but at that point, most viewers will be ready to walk a different beat altogether.